Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blue Thoughts

We do eat with our eyes, which is partly why cooks like to play with food colours. What our eyes perceive as delicious is however, to some extent (or maybe full extent) pre-determined by ancestral and personal historic ‘knowledge’. Blue food, for example (a few M&M’s aside), is not relished. This is presumably because there is no truly blue food in nature. Blueberries are really purplish-black, and the veins in blue cheese are greenish, and from a colour point of view only serve to as a counterpoint to the creamy white background.

When blue food colouring is used, it generally performs the same visual function as these veins (think of the blue M&M’s). Occasionally it is used deliberately to be outrageous – such as in the luminescent blue ‘slushy’ drinks which stain the teeth of ghoulish pre-adolescents, who drink them because their parents hate them (the drinks, that is.) In the olden days, cooks used to use two very natural blue colourings: turnsole (Crozophora tinctoria) and lapis lazuli (a brilliant blue rock, finely ground and used also in paint). Today we have E133 abd E132, which may or may not be better than whatever chemical it is in turnsole that produces blue.

The movie director Alfred Hitchcock, who supplied the quotation yesterday was famous for his horror movies, and in real life apparently had a practical-joking sense of humor. He once famously held a ‘blue dinner party’, at which all of the food was dyed blue, just to see what effect it had on his guests. I have tried for years to find an authentic and detailed description of the event, but although I am certain it did happen, the details have escaped me. The menu is variously said to have included soup, trout, chicken, venison, fish, peaches, and ice-cream, with ‘even the bread and water dyed blue.’ It is said that the guests were repelled by the food and could not eat much of it, even though the flavour was not affected. It is also often quoted that Hitchcock did not like blue skies in film. I have no idea if this is true, but bright blue skies in horror films perhaps do not create the right mood.

Blueberries, as I have said, are purplish-black, really. Here is one way to make them even blacker. I am sure they would not taste like blueberries after a few weeks of this treatment however, so what is the point?

Pickled Blueberries.
Nearly fill a jar with ripe berries, and fill up with good molasses. Cover, and set away. In a few weeks they will be ready to use.
Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book. 1880

[Miss Parloa also gives us a Black Pudding (dessert not sausage-style) made from blueberries.]


Quotation for the Day …

I've often thought tomatoes are
Much better red than blue.
A blue tomato is a food
I'd certainly eschew.

William Cole, from A Song of Thanks.

3 comments:

srhcb said...

From a friend's garden I have some blue potatos. They are a bit unsettling?

If I get up the nerve I may make some blue gnocchi!

The Old Foodie said...

I love potatoes in any shape or form ... except perhaps blue ones. I could eat them, I just dont think I would relish them.

nbm said...

Of the pickled blueberries, one might indeed ask, "Use them for what?"